Sunsets and Sunrises

Sunsets and sunrises are relatively easy to photograph because the exposure is not as critical as it is with some other scenes. If you underexpose the scene slightly, the colors will simply be a bit richer and darker. Slight overexposure will make the same scene slightly lighter.

The sun often takes on a flattened appearance as it rises above the horizon. When partially obscured and softened by a haze, its warm, red glow illuminates the foreground.

Sunrises and sunsets by themselves aren't very interesting. It's objects in the foreground, such as a skyline, or unusual atmospheric effects such as this dark cloud that give them some punch.

The colors in the sky are often richest in the half hour before the sun rises and the half hour after it sets. It pays to be patient as you watch the sky change during these periods. For one thing, the sun itself is below the horizon and not in the image so exposure problems are greatly reduced. Also, clouds in the sky often light up dramatically and in some cases, reflect the light to other clouds until you find yourself under a wonderful canopy of reflected color.

Every sunrise and sunset is unique and the variations can be truly amazing. It's certainly not true that "if you've seen one sunrise or sunset, you've seen them all." If you want the sun in the photo, it's best if it is softened and partly obscured by a mist or haze. If it rises as a hot white or yellow ball, find another subject, or turn around and photograph the scene it's illuminating.

With the bright disk of the sun included in a sunset or sunrise, your picture may come out somewhat underexposed and darker than you expect it to be. Add 1 or 2 stops of exposure to a sunset or sunrise that includes the disk of the sun.


Never look at the bright sun through the viewfinder. You can seriously damage your eyes.

Instead of shooting into the sun at sunrise or sunset, shoot with it behind you to capture rich, warm colors of scenes bathed in the sun's light.

A long-focal-length lens enlarges the disk of the sun so that it becomes a more important part of the picture. Foreground objects silhouetted against the bright sky, can also add interest.

Here the camera was positioned so the rising sun was behind one of the grain elevators where it wouldn't burn out the image with its glare.

It's tempting to take all of your photos of a rising or setting sun, but it often pays to turn around. The rich, warm light changes the colors of everything it hits. This is a magic time to capture images that will really stand out. Colors take on a warm, soft glow that can't be found at any other time of the day.

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